Sunday, 15 May 2011

Is this Anglican Evangelicalism?

I know it's an old chestnut, but it has come up again in another context, and — perhaps precisely because it is such a chestnut — it is worth trying to get it right. This is therefore the 'definition so far', with a special emphasis on Anglican evangelicalism. Comments are invited in the spirit of clarification.

Evangelicalism has at heart the proclamation to all:

1. That the fundamental problem with the world is the sin that separates us from God.

2. That sinners are personally under God's wrath and face Christ's judgement (Rev 6:15-17).

3. That out of God's great love, Christ died to reconcile us to God and God to us (Article II).

4. That sin is dealt with entirely, and only, by the death of Christ on the cross, whereby he bore the punishment for our sins (Isa 53:6) and overcame the powers of evil, delivering us from wrath and preparing us for the coming Kingdom.

5. That a right relationship with God (salvation) is found only, but entirely and immediately, through faithful trust in his word to us that [we are] sinners are reconciled to God by the death of his Son.

6. That ultimately all the blessings of God, and in the first instance his Holy Spirit (Gal 3:14), are given to those who, believing this gospel message, are born again.

7. That Scripture is the vehicle in which God's word of the gospel is presented and preserved, and through which it is proclaimed as God's living word to every generation (1 Cor 15:3,4; Gal 3:8; 1 Tim 4:13, cf also, for Anglicans, the Prayer Book Ordinal admonition to those about to be ordained priest).

As an Anglican, I would also want to add that baptism is the tangible sign of these truths and of God's promises, so that those who believe ought to receive baptism, in obedience to Christ, as an outward assurance of the gospel, and those who are baptized ought to believe what the sign of baptism displays to them (Article XXVII).

NB this is NOT intended to be a complete definition of Christianity, but rather of those understandings and emphases that mark out evangelical Christianity. (It is quite another debate whether other forms of 'Christianity' are thereby true or false.)

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  1. I guess my primary gripe will be against point 5 and 6,

    "That a right relationship with God (salvation) is found only, but entirely and immediately, through faithful trust in his word to us that we are sinners reconciled to God by the death of his Son."

    Is the fact that "we are sinners reconciled to God by the death of his Son", an *accomplished fact* proclaimed by the Word to us, which we put our trust in, or does our putting our "faithful trust in his word" *make* us "sinners reconciled to God by the death of Son"?

    If the former, then by default, everyone is already reconciled to God by the death of his Son! (Universalist and some Barthians nods). If the latter, then it dangerously collapses into a form of salvation by works, that we are reconciled to God, by our works of trust and faith, (putting our trust in, erm, trust), perhaps consistent with certain forms of Arminianism, but certainly not the puritan/Reformed type of Evangelicalism in the Anglican Church.

  2. I don't see anything specifically Anglican here, in the content as opposed to the notes. What do you think distinguishes this from a general definition of evangelicalism, from a rather conservative standpoint? You might want to compare with my discussion of what Frank Viola recently wrote about evangelicalism and beyond.

    PS Please can you try to blog tarot reading ads from your blog, assuming that you don't really want to promote this. The ad I am currently seeing is from

    (commenting from Warrington)

  3. Rubati, I wonder whether the issue might be resolved by the amendment I've made above (from "we are sinners" to "sinners are").

    Incidentally, I don't think "the fact that 'we are sinners reconciled to God by the death of his Son'" as 'an *accomplished fact* proclaimed by the Word to us, which we put our trust in' is necessarily equal and opposite to 'our putting our "faithful trust in his word"' which would '*make* us "sinners reconciled to God by the death of Son"'.

    The question of our response, and its role, is a notoriously narrow path to tread. "Save yourselves" (said Peter) "from this corrupt generation".

    The best route through, as I understand it, is to acknowledge the congruence between God's word to us and our faith in his word - they are just two things that must be present for there to be 'salvation'.

  4. Peter - the Anglicanism, as you say, is there. But I have always been drawn to the idea, advocated by Stephen Neill, that Anglicanism has no special doctrines. My hope was to show that this view is Anglican rather than that Anglicanism is this view.

    It is difficult to spot errant adverts, and Google takes a very dim view of one clicking on adverts on one's own website to find out where they go! I may be able to block that ad on the basis of the information provided, but it takes a while to do it.

  5. Well, John, I agree with Bishop Neill - I don't think any section of God's church should have distinctive doctrines to set it off from others.

    As for the ads (I have the same issues with mine), you can right click on them, copy the URL, and read what site they are linking to. Then I know it's a pain to block them. I think I blocked anything from

  6. Peter - not if its a true church, certainly. But there is also a flexibility in some areas (eg infant baptism or the doctrine of the 'real presence') where we may believe that we are 'distinctive', but that others may still be 'true churches'. Complicated, I know.

    I looked at the domain and there are quite a lot of potential customers/clients using it, so I'm not sure yet I want to block the whole thing. I'll keep an eye open for errant ads.

  7. Very surprised that beyond point 7 which is compatible with a skeletal Barthianism, a doctrine of Scripture is entirely absent. (And why does even that little have to wait until the very last point to be mentioned?) It's as if, as long as you believe the specifics of points 1-6, you can disbelieve everything else the Bible says!

    That can't be evangelical.

    Dan Baynes
    Barton Seagrave

  8. John, just to clarify, I have no problem with denominations defining doctrines because they believe them to be correct, at least as long as they are. My problem comes when they define them in order to be different from others.

  9. John, I was also confused by your top of the page link to a new post by you at Chelmsford FCA about Bishop Nazir-Ali. I thought this was going to be news, but it turns out that the article you link to is three years old! But I am not allowed to comment there as I am not a member - and don't want to be one.

  10. Peter - so it is! Accidents do happen and I can't remember how I got this link.

  11. Dan, as I said in the post, it isn't a comprehensive definition of Christianity, but it is set in the context of Anglicanism, which of course has the Thirty-Nine Articles with some very comprehensive statements about Scripture.

    Having said that, I don't think being evangelical starts with a definition of our attitude to Scripture, but it certainly includes it.

  12. John,

    Isn't point 7 a bit gentle as well. I know not all evangelicals would go as far as inerrancy, but something about authority, inspiration, reliability? "Vehicle in which...through which" surely leaves open some fairly liberal moves?

  13. Point about brevity understood, John - but my point is this: your list (or anyone else's) inevitably implies that the items listed are the most important doctrines. But before we can know their importance, we need to be able to know their truth; and for this in turn we need to know the basis by which we decide whether a given doctrine is true or false. That's why the doctrine of authority, i.e. of Scripture, must always be right up there with the primary doctrines.

    Also why the WCF was quite right to start with this doctrine, rather than the doctrine of God which we known in its fulness only because we first believe the Scriptures.

    Dan as above

  14. Dan, when I set out this 'definition', it was rather in the context (for me) of setting up a conference for junior Anglican evangelicals, so I suppose I did have in mind very much the question 'What makes us evangelicals?' rather than 'What makes us Christians?' or indeed 'What makes us Anglicans?'

    I acknowledge there is a genuine question as to whether there is - or ought to be - any difference between these three. However, the fact is that Anglicans (at least today) do recognize Christians in other denominations that differ from us in some key areas (infant baptism being an obvious one) and in the same way, within Anglicanism not all are evangelical.

    If the Anglican understanding of Scripture were more well-known and applied, I suspect rather more of us would be 'evangelical'.

    Even so, I would hold that evangelicalism is not first and foremost a doctrine of Scripture, so to that extent you are right - I have not put this first because I don't think it is first.

    Having said that, though, the verse that I always come back to for a fundamental definition is 1 Corinthians 15:3: "that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures". So a proper understanding of Scripture is foundational to faith, even though (I am saying) it is not the definitive feature of evangelicalism.

    I suppose what I am trying to avoid is an 'evangelicalism' which is actually a matter of doctrinal 'rectitude', not evangelizing passion.

    In the 1980s we had the phenomenon on these shores of evangelicals who gave up evangelizing because they had become interested in so many other issues. After that, the doctrine went West.

    Today, we must avoid evangelicals who are so concerned for 'doctrine' they forget the gospel is a message first and foremost.

    But I invited comments because I wanted to hear, so thank you for that.

  15. Neil, in defining a right attitude to Scripture there are always two things I want to say. The first is that Scripture is a revelatory 'act of God'. The latter is my way of trying to put theopneustos in English.

    In other words, the Bible is not merely a 'record' of God's revelation - much less, as Rowan Williams spoke of it, a reflection on God's revelation. It is intended by him for us.

    The other thing I want to say is that it is a 'relational' act of God. I got this idea from reading Peter Jensen's book on Revelation some time ago. The Bible is that through which God calls us into and keeps us in a relationship with himself.

    I need to find a snappy way of saying this, though perhaps the above is snappy enough.

  16. As regards Scripture, perhaps to make it also a bit "catholic" in the Anglican sense, you could add language from the Chicago Lambeth Quadrilateral - "the rule and ultimate standard of faith."

  17. Thank you John for your thoughtful comments on my post.

    Just wanted to come back to this:

    "In the 1980s we had the phenomenon on these shores of evangelicals who gave up evangelizing because they had become interested in so many other issues."

    Well, I'm old enough to remember that time - although not before - and from my recollection some of the more prominent "other issues" would have included: direct social action, speaking in tongues (etc), and (drum roll) priesting women!

    None of which is particularly associated with a classical conservative evangelicalism.

    Moreover, I'd say that as one's theology becomes more liberal, it also tends to move closer to universalism - and we all know what a spur to evangelism that is. Even for not so liberal people, an emphasis on social action (for example) can easily spell less attention to people's spiritual needs.

    In short: if conservative Bible believers are indifferent to evangelistic effort, they're being inconsistent with their theology; whereas if more liberal groups downplay evangelism, that's much more consistent with their respective stances.


  18. Dan, those were indeed the issues - shown nowhere better perhaps than at Greenbelt over the decades from the seventies to the nineties.

    I would want to say that I think some of these were good issues. I would love to see a Christian re-engagement with the arts and with social issues. But I think what those decades showed was that without considerable theological depth, it is easy for those issues to become a distraction from, not an expression of, the gospel.

    In a way, we were trying to emulate continental Calvinism. But lacking the depth, we got lost.

    Then, as you say, there is a drift to liberalism, which is also something which I think happens as you get older as a Christian unless the foundations are there.

    This is one reason why I'm organizing this conference for junior clergy - so that they don't make the mistakes we did.